Hi, welcome to your weekend!
I don’t envy media executives, who have tough jobs at the best of times. This week hasn’t been the best of times, like our CEO Jessica Lessin he could tell you. While the head of a journalistic newsroom rushed to cover the cataclysmic collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, Jessica was also trying to make sure The Information (SVB’s client) could make payroll and cover the rent. So far so good.
We’re a long way from the salad days of media ownership, when a publisher could flip a switch and make money. Google and Facebook ended that era a decade or more ago. Now, the key is to be so relevant to readers (as opposed to just advertisers) that they are willing to invest in your success through subscriptions. The News has leaned into that model, and increasingly, so has Meredith Kopit Levien, CEO of The New York Times Co.
As Abe observes on this weekend’s cover, Kopit Levien has enjoyed a charming run atop The Gray Lady. While its biggest competitors—including the Washington Post, News Corp. and Gannett- are cutting costs, the Times is on track. Revenue increased by 30% from 2020 and profits also increased by 70%. At the same time, the CEO has to deal with a restless union, a falling stock price, and the need to grow, grow, and grow some more.
No, it’s not an easy job for anyone. Which makes Kopit Levien’s strategy all the more exciting.
Now on to this weekend’s stories…
Under CEO Meredith Kopit Levien, the media company has strengthened its finances through both acquisition and innovation. But aggressive growth plans (15 million subscribers by 2027) represent a complex game for a 171-year-old brand. Abe talks to Kopit Levien about how she plans to keep the news machine humming.
The government has been slow to respond to new technological threats for years. So Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin of the Center for Human Technology are trying to catch up. They brought their troubling presentation, “The AI Dilemma,” to an invitation-only event in Washington last week, and journalist Nancy Scola was there to take the political temperature.
Starlink’s promise is simple: high-speed Internet beamed from space, whether you live in the Australian Outback or just camping out of your Subaru Outback. But as with other companies owned by Elon Musk, what you’re promised isn’t always what you get. Journalist Tim Stevens asks Starlink users to dine on the service.
Annie talks to the co-founder and chief revenue officer of Deel, a payroll platform that aims to streamline payments and hiring. Wang discusses her upbringing and the early sales lessons—learned from her mother—that continue to guide her.
Reading: The Royces of the Real World
Need a “Succession” fix before the first season hits HBO Max later this month? Pour over the highly entertaining “Unscripted,” a new book about billionaire Sumner Redstone and his crazy clan. Redstone died in 2020 after years building a media empire that included Paramount, CBS and Viacom. His succession drama sparked a huge conflict between his daughter, Shari Redstone, his associates and his lovers. The book’s authors – Jim Stewart and Rachel Abrams of the New York Times – chronicle the dispute in sordid detail, thanks in part to reams of texts and emails they received. (“A reader told me that no CEO should ever write a script again,” Stewart told me.) The Redstones are obvious inspirations for the Roys from “Succession,” though Stewart didn’t watch a show until finish the Book. “I didn’t want it to have any impact, even subconsciously, on our book,” he said. “But Sumner Redstone’s behavior goes beyond anything I’ve seen [on the show] until now.” And here you thought Boar on the Floor was bad. —Abe
Note: Mattel‘s Silicon sisters
Move over, Barbie. They are called the coolest dolls on the shelf Anna, Susan and Janet. That would be the Wojcicki sisters—respectively the CEO of 23andMe, the recently departed CEO of YouTube, and a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at UCSF—now immortalized by Mattel as part of a collection honoring women in science, technology , engineering and mathematics. The STEM dolls are the latest in Mattel’s year-long effort to rebrand Barbie as more than just a blonde hood ornament. In 2018, the company launched the “inspiring women” line, modeled after historical figures such as Jane Goodall, Ida B. Wells and Maya Angelou. With dolls like this, it can feel like Barbie becomes all work and not play. But the real Wojickis sure seem to be enjoying life in plastic. —Ariel
Next: The influencer living with HIV
Three weeks ago, Zach Willmore, 19, filmed a TikTok in his bedroom, talking to the camera while applying makeup. It was the first day the TikToker was diagnosed with HIV. “I worry about people seeing me as untouchable,” she said, dabbing on concealer. The post went viral and now 1.7 million people follow Willmore’s daily updates about his blood tests and medication. While Willmore’s content was about his life as a college student, he’s now become a very Gen Z-style activist, using viral audio and makeup videos to educate his audience. In one post, she applies green eyeshadow while explaining her HIV history. In another, he discovers his viral load is low and talks about his holiday shopping. Some have criticized his videos, saying they minimize the seriousness of the disease. But thousands of others have praised Willmore for showing that HIV is no longer a death sentence. “I’m so grateful you post,” one commenter wrote. “You will save many lives by talking about your experience.” —Margo
It makes you think
Until next weekend, thanks for reading.
Weekend editor, The Information